The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) held, for the 14th consecutive year, a unique joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day). This is the only event dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. More than 850 people attended the event, including about 200 Border Patrol Cadets who provided an honor guard and 200 high school students, along with Jewish rescuers and survivors. The ceremony was held at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza.
This years' event memorialized the rescue efforts of Jewish educator and Leningrad resident Shmuil Markowitz Pevzner (1912 –1991). According to survivors' testimonies Pevzner served as the director of the Polish troupe in the Soviet Pioneers Camp in Druskeninkai, Lithuania when on June 22, 1941, the Nazis launched “Operation Barbarossa” and attacked the area. Pevzner succeeded in rescuing all 300 children from the camp, including about 140 Jewish children from Bialystok, Poland, and the surrounding region, and retreating with them by train to the safety of the Soviet Far East. For the 12 day journey, they were under repeated German aerial attack. Pevzner established a home for the children in the Udmurtia Republic under the Soviet government’s patronage, caring for them through extreme weather conditions and shortages until World War II ended. The children—only four of whom found any surviving parents after the war—were repatriated to Poland in 1946, and most immigrated to Israel. Pevzner was decorated by Poland and the Soviet Union for his rescue of the children. The director of the Lithuanian troupe at the camp, Stasys Sviderskis, was recognized in 1997 by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for his role in the rescue.
"It is appropriate that these days when divisions among us are escalating and dialogue between various groups in society has become polarized, that we remember the spirit of solidarity represented by Shmuel Markowitz Pevsner. That spirit kept Jews safe even in the most difficult times, lifted us out of the crematorium and ashes and led us to fulfill the Zionist dream of a State of Israel," KKL-JNF Chairman Danny Atar said.
Pevzner was represented at the ceremony by his son Dr. Mark Pevzner and grandson Boris Pevzner, both residents of Udmurtia.
"Today we make historic justice with Samuel Markowitz Pevzner. We as representatives of the Jewish people- praise his accomplishments and commemorate his memory by awarding him posthumously our "Jewish Rescuers Citation," B’nai B’rith World Center Chairman Haim V. Katz said.
Russian Ambassador to Israel Alexander Shein was the guest of honor at the ceremony. He noted that Pevzner's exploits were one of the most outstanding heroic acts undertaken during WWII by any Soviet citizen. The ambassador noted that the train he commanded was dubbed "Pevzner's Ark" by the survivors, and that a division of Soviet tanks were annihilated when they refused an order to retreat in order to defend the train from German attack. Noting the 10 million Soviet military casualties during the war—among a total of 28 million Soviet citizens who died—the ambassador warned against ongoing attempts in some countries to falsify history by equating between the Soviet Union and the Nazis and erase the heroic record of Russians, Jews and others who contributed to the victory over the Nazis.
During the ceremony a “Jewish Rescuers Citation” was posthumously conferred on Pevzner by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B’nai B’rith World Center and on six other Jewish rescuers from Greece, Poland and Hungary. Since the establishment of the Jewish Rescuers Citation in 2011, honors have been awarded to about 100 rescuers who operated in France, Germany, Holland and Hungary.
The event was held at the Martyr's Forest—a joint Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) and B’nai B’rith project which memorializes the victims of the Holocaust with six million trees planted in the picturesque Jerusalem mountains near Moshav Kesalon. At the pinnacle of the forest stands the “Scroll of Fire” by the renowned sculptor Nathan Rappaport, which invokes the destruction of the Jewish people in the Holocaust and their redemption in the State of Israel. The event will commence with personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors to classes of soldiers.
The phenomena of Jewish rescue and the instructive stories of thousands of Jews who labored to save their endangered brethren throughout Europe have yet to receive appropriate public recognition and resonance. Many who could have tried to flee preferred to stay and rescue others; some paid for it with their lives. With great heroism Jews in every country in occupied Europe employed subterfuge, forgery, smuggling, concealment and other methods to ensure that some Jews survived the Holocaust there or assisted them in escaping to a safe haven and in doing so foiled the Nazi goal of total genocide against the Jews. The organizers of the ceremony view it as especially important to expose Jewish youth to Jewish rescue during the Holocaust as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage.